bus driver credited with saving lives during shooting

An Edmonton bus driver is being called a hero with nerves of steel for his role in last week’s police shooting of a gunman at a busy Clareview intersection.

A retired police sergeant, driver Ernie Russell’s training kicked in when he came face-to-face with a man armed with a rifle March 13.

First, he stopped the bus, then, the second it was safe, he had his half-dozen passengers lie on the floor at the back of the bus, moments before the vehicle was struck by at least one bullet.

A bullet went through the driver’s seat, leaving a hole at chest height where Russell had just been sitting.

“A lot of people would have panicked,” Mark Tetterington, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 569, said Tuesday.

“He saw the danger, had everyone hit the deck. … He did everything absolutely perfect.”

Russell is forbidden by Edmonton Transit to speak publicly about his actions because of the ongoing police investigation. Three unrelated sources confirmed the sequence of events with the Journal, but can’t be named because they are not authorized to speak with the media.

Russell was driving the bus north on 50 Street carrying about five passengers around 11:30 a.m. when he saw the gunman at 137 Avenue.

The gunman was dressed in black: “Black jacket, black hair with a ball cap,” Russell told the Edmonton Transit control desk.

Russell stopped the bus. At some point, the gunman pointed his rifle at or near him. Russell stayed perfectly still.

It’s unclear how long the two stayed that way, but the driver took action when police arrived and started yelling at the man to drop his gun.

As the gunman turned to point his rifle at police, Russell quickly slipped from his seat, ushered all the passengers to the back of the bus and told them to get down on the floor.

He sounded calm in updates to the Edmonton Transit control room: “All my passengers are on the floor. I’m instructing them to keep down, keep low,” he said.

A police officer shot the gunman. A witness heard three shots. The gunman was rushed to hospital.

Police later found a Lee-Enfield .303-calibre rifle on the street. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is investigating the police-involved shooting.

Russell didn’t see the bullet hole in his seat until he and his passengers were preparing to leave the bus. It’s unclear how many bullets went through the bus windshield.

“Through my windshield, through my seat and through the barrier behind me,” Russell told control.

Sources said Russell’s police training helped him stay calm and act quickly to protect his passengers. He saved his own life in the process.

Police said no one on the bus was injured.

Tetterington was able to confirm a few details, but had not spoken directly with Russell. He said Russell has been driving with Edmonton Transit for about a year.

“The way he handled everything was so professional. He deserves a commendation for the way he handled that,” Tetterington said. “He immediately notified control and told them of the danger in the area,” which meant other buses stayed away.

The officer who shot the gunman was a 10-year member of the Edmonton Police Service. He’s been put on mandatory administrative leave.

Glenn Justin Ironchild, 36, went to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in critical condition following the shooting. His family said he’s recovering. He’s been charged with a variety of gun-related offences, including careless use of a firearm and assault with a weapon.